Full game coverage of the most recent loss by the Suns to the San Antonio Spurs including the preview, review, videos, and an exclusive story on Shannon Brown.
What was once the hottest ticket in town has become more of a laugher over the past three years. Throughout the 2000's the Phoenix Suns (18-38) and the San Antonio Spurs (44-13) had some classic battles for playoff positioning and in the Western Conference Playoffs searching for a title.
The steady drop in the standings over the past three seasons has been one sided as the Suns have not made the Playoffs in three years while the Spurs have won 155 games and counting as serious contenders.
When did the rivalry end?
Other than this year the Suns had Steve Nash as the architect and assistants in Grant Hill, Channing Frye, and Amare Stoudemire to help. Since then they have all left on their own accord going to contending teams (insert Lakers joke here) deciding to not go down with the sinking ship.
The way these two franchises are run seem to be polar opposites. That is not a knock on the Suns front office, but rather a knock on the consistency that the team has not had over the past five years which has been the reason for the downfall.
In the past five seasons alone the Suns have had three different head coaches, three different acting general managers, and a roster turnover from title contenders to lottery odds watchers.
In that same span the Spurs have had one coach, one general manager, the same core roster, and remarkable consistency as a franchise. A model to study and learn from if there ever was one. The results over the past three seasons tell the story.
(Recent) History Lesson
This season the teams have met once and it was a close game until (TP) eviscerated the Suns (11 points 4 assists) in the fourth quarter. He finished with 31 points and 7 assists for the game, but the show he put on late was a display of one of many stark differences between the two teams this season.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 105.3 PPG (7 wins)
Spurs: 106.1 PPG (9 wins)
That is a little deceiving as the Spurs have dominated the Suns over the past three seasons going 8-1 against them, but were 1-6 during the 2009-2010 season. That was the season where the Suns got redemption against their then rivals with a playoffs sweep and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Duncan vs. Suns: 22.5 PPG 12.5 RPG 3.2 APG 2.5 BPG 55.3 FG% (84 games)
Gortat vs. Spurs: 13.0 PPG 9.8 RPG 1.3 BPG 50.5 FG% (10 games)
If you want to call Duncan old here are his numbers in the last four seasons (14 games) 20.6 PPG 11.0 RPG 2.5 APG 2.1 RPG and 61.5 FG%. He is not aging half bad. Over that span he was 33, 34, 35, and now 35 years old.
The younger, more athletic center has been schooled for the most part by the veteran as Gortat has played well in three games career against the Spurs and floundered in the other seven. He is 28 years old today.
Suns Bench vs. Spurs Bench
At one point in the season the Suns had the second best bench units in the NBA scoring nearly 40 points per game, only bested by the Los Angeles Clippers. Since then it has been a rapid decline with inconsistent minutes for each player resulting in erratic results nightly.
On the other hand the Spurs have been very consistent all season scoring 38.5 PPG as a unit taking the pressure off of the starters. Each unit balances one another out for the best team in the league.
The play of Manu Ginobili is the primary reason why they get that production off of the bench, but they have a plethora of depth with shooters, finishers, play-makers, and guys who know their role in the system. The Suns have depth as well, but nobody knows their role and when the bench comes in it becomes a free-for-all.
Interesting Stat: 13
The Spurs have scored 100+ against the Suns in 13 straight games. That is unlikely to change as they average 104.4 PPG and have netted 100+ in 38 out of 57 so far this season. Even without Parker for three games this season the Spurs still managed to get over 100 in each game averaging 105 PPG going 2-1 without their star.
Meaningless Stat: 23 Points
Those 23 fourth quarter points by Dragic against the Spurs are a distant memory, but they are also the career outlier his him against them. In the other 69 quarters for the Suns and the Houston Rockets he has scored a total of 110 points. That is 1.6 points per quarter.
For the most part fans of the Phoenix Suns (18-39) want them to lose to get higher in the lottery, so technically the past two weeks have been a win for somebody on some level. Right?
@ Los Angeles Lakers - L (91-85)
@ Portland Trail Blazers - W (102-98)
@ Golden State Warriors - L (108-98)
vs. Boston Celtics - L (113-88)
vs. San Antonio Spurs - L (97-87)
Most of the NBA Trade Deadline chatter revolved around the Suns as they were at the center of the basketball universe for the first time in years. They were rumored to be going after the likes of Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Gordon Haywood, Iman Shumpert, Jeremy Lamb, Kendrick Perkins, and others to continue the rebuild.
Instead they made two quiet moves shipping Sebastian Telfair to the Toronto Raptors for Hamed Haddadi and a conditional second round pick that freed Bassy from the depths of the Suns bench. Then they turned their 2013 second round pick into Marcus Morris, who now joins his twin brother on the same team just a year and a half after being together in college.
Those two moves had no relative impact on the teams performance on the court as Bassy was not playing regardless and it brought in two more players for the team to evaluate.
The final three games were eye-opening. especially the ones against the Celtics and the Spurs. Those two teams have franchises to model after with leadership, structure, and the ability to plug guys in that fit their system. They have so many retread players performing at a high level it begs the question; How come the Suns cannot find a few of them?
15 Games Under 90 Points Scored
Through 57 games the team has scored under 90 points a total of 15 times, including three times the past two weeks. To put that in perspective that happened 13 times in 66 games last year and 29 times total in the other seven years Steve Nash was here.
With 25 games to go it is entirely possible the Suns finish with the most under 90 point games in over 12 years.
The offense has hit a wall and has proven to be inept, seemingly incapable of scoring with any consistency, but the team is focusing on defense as of late so the offense is bound to be the casualty.
The addition of Marcus Morris is not earth shattering or mind blowing, but it is the shrewd type of business move that eventual turns a floundering team into a contender. In Houston Marcus was buried on the bench, but has played well this season. That should continue here.
Furthermore they basically traded Bassy for Marcus and Haddadi as the second round picks cancel each other out. They will receive either Sacramento or Toronto's pick in the second round. Turning Bassy into a former lottery pick and a serviceable 7-footer is good business.
To put a bow on the poor offense here are a few numbers from the past five games that put a finer point on the struggles on that side of the ball.
In five games the team turned the ball over 83 times (16.6 per game) giving the opposing team more opportunities to score and subtracting from their own opportunities. If they continued that per game trend with the turnovers it would easily be the most in the league.
Those turnovers are compounded by the poor three point shooting. In those same five games the team shot 22-71 (30.9%) from deep. Overall they shot 43.5% from the field, or 46% from inside the three-point line. This is not a three-point shooting team. That has been established through 57 games of evidence and proof. Shooting threes is a borderline waste of a possession at this point and leads to the opponent gaining another high percentage possession.
A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.
Player of the Week:
Goran Dragic - 13.75 PPG 3.75 RPG 12.25 APG 3.0 SPG 40.3% FG
He didn't set the world on fire, but he did send the Goran Dragic Record Book back to the printers for some new career-highs. Against the Blazers Dragic was in a rhythm dishing out assists left and right to a tune of 18 total, a new single game career-high and the most by a Suns player in 134 games. Over the next three games Dragic dished out 10+ assists to give him the longest stretch in his career with 10+ assists.
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Tuesday, February 26th vs. Los Angeles Lakers (28-29)
Wednesday, February 27th @ San Antonio Spurs (45-13)
Friday, March 1st vs. Atlanta Hawks (31-23)
This Unique Collaboration is Highlighted by Support from Hoops for St. Jude Ambassadors
Tipping off Feb. 24, and continuing through March 4, the NBA family - led by Hoops for St. Jude ambassadors and ESPN commentators - will engage fans through this unique relationship, designed to advance cancer research and patient care benefiting children and families battling pediatric cancer. One hundred percent of donations to The V Foundation from this campaign will go directly towards cancer research benefiting St. Jude's patients. Together they form a powerful force in pediatric cancer research.
Along with their visit to St. Jude already, the Suns will be hosting their Hoops for St. Jude night on February 26 when they host Minnesota and all the coaches and staff will be wearing St. Jude lapel pins.
If fans want to get involved, we have a launched new web site (www.stjude.org/hoops/media) where fans can go to donate and register for a chance to win a VIP trip for two to summer league in Vegas.
Fans can also donate $10 by texting HOPE to 50333.
The contributions of St. Jude supporters enable the hospital to treat the toughest cases of childhood cancer, with some of the best outcomes in the world. Best of all, no family ever pays St. Jude for anything. St. Jude has literally changed the way the world treats childhood cancer and has helped push overall survival rates from 20 to 80 percent since the hospital opened in 1962. St. Jude freely shares its research discoveries with doctors and scientists everywhere, so that one child saved at St. Jude means thousands more saved around the world.
"‘Your child has cancer' may be the four scariest, most devastating words a parent could ever hear, and they mark the beginning of one of the most daunting battles children and their families could ever face," said Richard Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC/St. Jude. "St. Jude has made incredible progress in the fight against pediatric cancer, but it's a fight that wages on. We are blessed to have allies like The V Foundation, ESPN and the NBA in arming our doctors and scientists with the resources they need, introducing more people to our lifesaving work and inviting them to join us in our mission."
Not so much as a drop of hard earned game sweat was shed on the jersey; it is as good as a game worn jersey in terms of quality that any fan could ever want. He tossed it to the team hamper, collected his things, and left the arena as professional as one could be in this situation.
That is what Brown is trying to do, exhibit professionalism as he has become the casualty of a losing season.
"Health wise everything is fine," Brown told me after the game.
Right now he is marred in the battle of being a professional while sitting out, watching what he loves happen right in front of him day-in-and-day-out. It is equivalent to going home one day and having your significant other tell you that thing you love the most... whether that is hunting, bowling, fixing cars, watching sports, or any imaginable hobby that brings a person pleasure. It is something that you are now not able to do. But you can watch from a safe distance as others do it right in-front of you.
No explanation and no rationale, it is just something you are not able to do anymore.
When Interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter took over he made some bold decisions, first was benching back-up point guard Sebastian Telfair for rookie Kendall Marshall. That had some logic behind it with a losing season, but it was delivered to Bassy the same way. With no explanation.
At the time Bassy handled it professionally just as Brown is handling his demotion to the end of the bench with no realistic reason to believe there is light at the end of it in the form of his coach calling his name outside of practice.
Now with Bassy gone the odd man out of the rotation is Brown.
Despite the electric and sometimes game saving offensive efforts, the offensively challenged Suns have decided to phase out arguably their best weapon and have him sit the second half of the season out.
Earlier this season Brown had some magical games including six fourth quarter threes to push the team past Charlotte on the road, then 22 points the next game in a blowout over Cleveland, and numerous other efforts that established him as a preeminent scorer off of the bench in the league.
On the season he is an 11.2 points per game. As a reserve he is at 9.7 PPG this year (or 11.3 PPG under previous head coach Alvin Gentry), but that has dropped in the 12 games Brown has played under Hunter all the way to 7.1 PPG off of the pine.
So with an offense that is struggling, a team that is not winning, and the teams scoring lightning rod not playing, what is going on?
"Everything you are saying is right, about my health, the offense, all of that, but I just have to stay professional. Keep in shape and wait for my time," Brown said after I asked him those exact same questions.
To his credit he is staying positive. No public out-cry on Twitter or in the papers, normal demeanor on the bench, and a good attitude after games.
For a team not winning and looking to evaluate the youth that they have, where is the logic in pushing away a 27 year old scorer who is finding his niche here as a reserve? Brown is wondering the same thing.